Final Questions: Notre Dame vs. Alabama

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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla.  — After a wait that felt almost biblical, Notre Dame and Alabama will finally play for the BCS National Championship. After over 40 days of breaking down match-ups, digging deeper into opponents, and hypothesizing about one of college football’s dream match-ups, it’s time to play the game.

Let’s run through some final questions:

Who will win the line of scrimmage?

If there’s one battle that’ll likely tell the story of this game, it’s the war in the trenches. Can Notre Dame’s offensive line hold up against Alabama’s stout front? Can the Irish defensive line hold up against the Crimson Tide’s vaunted offensive line?

In what will likely feel like a heavyweight fight, seeing these two powerful fronts battle will be the key match-up.

Will the Irish secondary continue to limit big plays?

For a group that’s spent the entire season playing great football, there are still an awful lot of questions about Notre Dame’s secondary. But Zeke Motta, Matthias Farley, KeiVarae Russell and Bennett Jackson have quietly gone about their business. And played really good football.

Talking to that quartet on media day, there was a quiet confidence among the group. Bennett Jackson talked about playing a physical brand of cornerback, all with his shoulder in a harness. KeiVarae Russell gave me a thousand-watt smile when asked about his interception against Marqise Lee, and his, “Oh, hell yes,” attitude.

Notre Dame will need a big game out of Motta, who will be needed in run support. And they know that the Tide will likely test the Irish secondary vertically early, hoping to bust talented freshman Amari Cooper lost. Can the back-end of the Irish defense continue to limit the big plays?

Can Notre Dame run the ball?

With their coming out party in the second half against Miami, the Irish run game has been dominant this season, racking up solid statistics against a schedule filled with teams stingy against the run. But this will be their biggest test of the year, and their toughest opponent to date.

How the Irish use their trio of talented runners will be key. But getting something out of the ground game, and keeping a balanced offensive attack, will be critical. While Theo Riddick might be the guy that takes the lions share of the carries, both Cierre Wood and George Atkinson have the ability to break long runs, and the Irish will need to break off one or two if they hope to win.

Can Everett Golson play mistake free football?

Everett Golson has seen plenty of big stages. But tonight is a different story. Golson’s evolution has been tremendous, and he’s going to need to take a big step forward against the Tide if the Irish want to be crowned national champs.

Brian Kelly is confident in his quarterback and his ability to make plays both in and out of the pocket. And Golson is going to have to find the right mix of smarts and aggression, knowing when to take chances and when to show patience. This Alabama team is the No. 1 defense in the country, and they take the ball away better than last year’s dominant outfit. Golson staying clean in the turnovers category is crucial.

Will the Irish rise to the moment?

Preparing a team for one game is a difficult proposition. Putting together a game plan for six weeks is never easy. But this team feels confident in their preparation, and Notre Dame is loose and ready to play.

But will the Irish play their best on the game’s biggest stage? That’s the million dollar question.